Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Precedent-setting hair case drags on

Today marks one year of freedom for George D. Perrot, who served 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in a nationally significant case involving flawed FBI forensics and one strand of hair. But Perrot continues to feel “tortured” by Massachusetts prosecutors, who are dragging their feet on an appeal of the decision that set him free. The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism updates the case here.

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America’s Guilty Plea Problem Under Scrutiny

Innocence Organizations Launch Awareness Campaign Highlighting Broken Criminal Justice System that Pressures Innocent People to Plead Guilty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact:  Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, pcates@innocenceproject.org  

(New York, NY– January 23, 2017) – The Innocence Project and members of the Innocence Network today launched a public education campaign, GuiltyPleaProblem.org, to aim a spotlight on the problem of innocent people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.

After rising steadily over the past two decades, today 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved by a guilty plea. As GuiltyPleaProblem.org painfully illustrates, innocent people who are trapped in the system face enormous pressures to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. A criminal justice system that routinely forces innocent people to plead guilty is unfair and unjust, and, ultimately, violates the principles intended by the Sixth Amendment.

“While it is impossible to know the full extent of the problem, the fact that more than 10 percent of the 349 people who were proven innocent by DNA testing had initially pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit tells us that there is a problem and it is extensive,” said Maddy deLone, executive director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “The system pressures people to make choices that are irrational and against their interest. As we arrest and prosecute more people, it becomes even less possible to ensure that the innocent can resist these pressures to plead. From the first moment a person is charged, all actors in the system—defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges—have an interest in a speedy resolution. While fixing this problem won’t be easy, we must find ways to lessen these pressures so that innocent people are not denied their Constitutional rights to a trial.”  

According to Innocence Project data, 11 percent of the 349 DNA exonerations involved people who pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. The National Registry of Exonerations shows that 345 people have been exonerated who pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit throughout the United States.  These represent the lucky few who pleaded guilty (in most cases to serious felonies) and were able to get their convictions reversed, which is especially difficult when a plea has been entered. There is no reliable data on the number of innocent people who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, which makes up a much larger percentage of criminal convictions yet result in significant collateral consequences.   

At GuiltyPleaProblem.org, viewers will have the opportunity to watch first-person videos of four exonerees who accepted plea deals and served significant jail sentences despite being innocent.

  • Chris Ochoa: Ochoa pleaded guilty to a 1988 murder in order to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life. He was exonerated in 2002 after spending 13 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
  • JoAnn Taylor: Taylor pleaded guilty to second degree murder to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. She was exonerated in 2009 after spending 19 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit.
  • Brian Banks: Banks pleaded guilty to sexual assault to avoid a 41-year prison sentence. He was eventually exonerated in 2012 with the help of the California Innocence Project.
  • Rodney Roberts: Roberts pleaded guilty to second degree kidnapping and spent 18 years in detention before being exonerated through DNA evidence.

In addition to these stories, the website features an interview with U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff who discusses some of the reasons for the rise in the percentage of cases that end in guilty pleas and how this undermines the justice system. TV star and criminal justice advocate Hill Harper is featured in a short public service announcement encouraging people to get involved and find solutions to this pressing problem.  

According to the Innocence Project and members of the Innocence Network, the stories of these four innocent people are powerful reminders of the profound injustices that remain endemic to our criminal justice system. Yet, the organizations note, that there are no easy solutions for reversing the practice of guilty pleas. Today’s launch is the first of a multi-year campaign. Over the coming months, visitors will hear from experts on possible solutions to the problem.

“If every person accused of a crime demanded a trial, the system would be overwhelmed in a matter of hours,” added deLone. “While the plea system has a role to play in making the system run efficiently, we have come to rely on pleas to our detriment. The first step in correcting this profound injustice is to demonstrate the all too real harms that have resulted—and raise awareness that there is a problem to be solved.”

Visitors are encouraged to sign-up for updates on how they can become involved in fixing America’s guilty plea problem.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Book Review: “Forensic Science Reform – Protecting the Innocent”

 

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For the last 8 1/2 years, I have been working to ‘help’ overcome the devastating effects that incorrect, bogus, and non-scientific forensics has had on our justice system in producing wrongful convictions.  And I’ve also been writing about it on this blog since its inception.

C.M. (Mike) Bowers has teamed up with Wendy Koen to produce a definitive work addressing many of these issues. Mike is forensic dentist who has been at the forefront of debunking the junk science of bite mark analysis. Wendy Koen is a former attorney with the California Innocence Project. Mike also maintains the website CSIDDS dedicated to promoting truth, reason, logic, and actual science in the discipline of forensics.

The data below from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or misleading forensic evidence is a contributing factor in 24% of all the wrongful convictions logged by the registry to date.

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This book provides substantial reinforcement for the ground-breaking “NAS Report,” published in 2009. Please see:  https://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2013/06/29/the-nas-report-aftermath/  However, this book also includes material not covered by the original NAS report. This book is a “must” for the library of anyone committed to ensuring that ALL forensics is based upon true science, logic, reason, and fact.

Justin O. Brookes, Director of the California Innocence Project: “My former brilliant student, Wendy Koen, along with Dr. Michael Bowers (the expert behind the Richards’ exoneration) have written a new book you all should consider ordering–“Forensic Science Reform:Protecting The Innocent.”  It’s an excellent addition to the scholarship in our world and could be helpful to those of you struggling with forensic issues. I’m going to have our library order a hard copy.”

Valena Beety, Deputy Director of the WVU Law Clinical Law Program, chairing the West Virginia Innocence Project: “I’ve just ordered it for our law library at WVU and I anticipate it being a helpful resource. Thank you to everyone involved in making this book happen!”

You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Forensic-Science-Reform-Protecting-Innocent/dp/0128027193/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Columbus Will Pay Ohio Innocence Project For Witholding Public Records

Click to read the original article and listen to the WOSU interview

The city of Columbus and a group that works to free wrongly convicted people ended a years-long fight this week.

The city will pay $19,000 dollars for legal expenses incurred by the Ohio Innocence Project, which is based out of the University of Cincinnati school of law. Columbus will also pay the Ohio Innocence Project $1,000 in damages for illegally withholding public records.

Attorney Donald Caster, a clinical professor of law at the University of Cincinnati who works for the Project, explained in an interview with WOSU how the case unfolded and what it means for transparency in the state.

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Sam Hendren: When did the Ohio Innocence Project first encounter resistance from the city of Columbus to public records requests?

Donald Caster: We’ve been encountering resistance from Columbus for several years. Sometimes we could work around the resistance with the Franklin County prosecuting attorney and sometimes we couldn’t. We noticed that it wasn’t just Columbus, it was other areas in Ohio as well. So at some point we decided that we needed to challenge the law enforcement agencies who were telling us that we weren’t entitled to get public records to investigate claims of innocence.

Sam Hendren: So the Ohio Supreme Court then did what?

Donald Caster: The first thing that happens is the filing of a complaint. The city of Columbus then filed an answer and a motion to dismiss the complaint and said, “Look, even if everything the Ohio Innocence Project is saying is true, they’re still not entitled to relief.” The Ohio Supreme Court turned down that motion in order and ordered us to submit full briefs on the case. We did that.

The Ohio Supreme Court then heard oral arguments, they heard from the attorneys for the city of Columbus, they heard from attorneys for me and the Ohio Innocence Project, in this case Fred Gittes and Jeff Vardaro of the Gittes law firm. And then they eventually issued a decision just after Christmas.

Sam Hendren: And that decision says what?

Donald Caster: That decision says that a case that law enforcement agencies had been relying on, a case called “Steckman,” which suggested in some ways that public records pertaining to criminal cases would never be accessible until a particular defendant or inmate were released from prison, is no longer good law. And it’s no longer good law because some of the rules that control pretrial discovery between the state and the defendant had changed.

So the Ohio Supreme Court said it didn’t need that rule any more. Now as soon as a criminal case is done, as soon as the trial is over, the public can go ahead and seek those records out from law enforcement agencies.

Sam Hendren: Because in one or perhaps many more cases, the city of Columbus for example was withholding records from the Ohio Innocence Project for decades.

Donald Caster: And what Columbus was saying was that they were going to withhold the records for decades. In this particular instance they said you won’t be entitled to these records until the defendant in the case your researching is done serving his entire sentence. In this case, it’s a life sentence, so it would have been upon the defendant’s death.

Sam Hendren: Now we’re talking about Adam Saleh, who was imprisoned or who is imprisoned for killing a woman named Julie Popovich.

Donald Caster: That’s correct.

Sam Hendren: Right. Why is it important to have timely access to documents that the police department was refusing to hand over?

Donald Caster: For a couple of reasons. First of all, from a general standpoint, in Ohio we value the transparency of our public servants and that means being able to access the documents that they generate and that they rely upon in making our decision. From the standpoint of post-conviction work, of helping free people who have been wrongfully convicted, oftentimes the only way that we can prove that something went wrong at trial is to access the public records about that case.

Sam Hendren: And what has been the track record of the Innocence Project? Have innocent people been freed?

Donald Caster: That’s correct. We’ve been around since 2003, and since 2003, 23 people have been released on grounds of innocence as a result of our work

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Jeffrey MacDonald actual innocence appeal

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret surgeon who was first cleared in the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters and then convicted in 1970, will have what may be his final chance at overturning his conviction after spending the past 36 years in prison for a crime that many experts now believe he did not commit.  Oral arguments before a federal appeals court will commence on January 26.  The crime took place prior to the use of DNA analysis and new DNA evidence and a lot of other evidence, including evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, flawed forensic testimony, and botched crime scene analysis, provides powerful support for his story that intruders killed his family in what was in some ways similar to the “Manson family” murders in that same era.  People Magazine investigative reports will culminate in its major cover story, available on newsstands on Friday, January 20.  Here is a link to the People Magazine digital story today that precedes the cover story:

Former Green Beret Surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald Says There’s Evidence He Didn’t Kill His Family: ‘I Am Innocent’

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

How Many Indigenous Prisoners In Australia Are Innocent?

An interesting question, with, I suspect, a terrifying answer. But who knows when miscarriages of justice in Australia are so notoriously difficult to overturn. Particularly if you are an indigenous prisoner, as this article points out:

For Aboriginal people who already have the justice system stacked against them, the avenues to protest a guilty verdict are limited, and it is unlikely you will be believed.

image-20160726-24908-1or4wo6Remember that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system of Australia.Aboriginal people represent only 3% of the total population, yet 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal.

This podcast details one case in particular of a suspected miscarriage of justice – of an Aboriginal man sentenced for a murder in 1991, that it is highly unlikely he was involved with despite his confession (most of which was thrown out of court for being involuntary). This is a case that is worthy of support – but points to a deeper problem: that there are most likely to be many many more like it, hidden from view not just because of the systemic hurdles in overturning wrongful convictions, but the almost blissful ignorance of the public that there are serious flaws in their justice system that only very rarely come to the surface.

Read more here… Curtain And The Case For Freedom: How Many Indigenous Prisoners In Australia Are Innocent?

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Innocence Project Northwest Client Freed

Lester Juan Griffin Jr. walked free last week after serving 8.5 of a 24-year sentence for burglary and assault.  Story here, earlier decision in the case, overturning conviction, here.  Congrats IPNW!

Monday’s Quick Clicks…